Monday, November 1, 2010
AN INTERVIEW WITH BOB COLONNA
Bob Colonna is the son of comedian and entertainer Jerry Colonna. Jerry is best known as being a foil for Bob Hope on radio, television, and movies. However, Jerry Colonna was a gifted musician and family man as well. Bob Colonna, a gifted director and actor as well, has written a book about his father called: "Greetings, Gate!: The Story of Professor Jerry Colonna". I highly recommend the book, and you can buy it here.
Bob was gracious enough to take time out of his active and busy schedule to sit down with me and answer a few questions about his life and his famous father:
LOBOSCO: Growing up in a famous household, what do you remember most?
BOB COLONNA: Being treated differently at school -- not pleasantly, either. Also, showing up at interesting places, being photographed with Dad and Mom, etc.
LOBOSCO: Your father is best remembered as a comedian, but he was a well rounded talented entertainer as well, what facet of his career do he think he was most proud of?
BOB COLONNA: He was always first and foremost a jazz trombonist, and at one time was named one of the top five in the US. He was always happiest when he could play the horn.
LOBOSCO: Your father worked with Bob Hope for a good portion of his career. Since Bob's death, some true and untrue stories came out about him, what was your impression (and your father's impression) of Bob Hope?
BOB COLONNA: In some ways a distant man, and very self protective. Very witty, which will put paid to those who think he couldn't be funny without idiot cards. And very, very loyal to his friends, especially Jerry; even after Jerry passed, Hope made sure my Mom was looked after, but without it ever seeming like charity. I think Hope, in his way, was a great man, and like great men, had a few failings. He had only one drug, however, and that was the applause and laughter of servicemen and women, and he went, compulsively, to wherever he could find it.
LOBOSCO: After your father became ill in the 1960s, he withdrew from the limelight. During this time, did he keep up on the change in entertainment (the music, the "new" comedians) and what did he think of them?
BOB COLONNA: Actually, Jerry continued to perform after the stroke, but only on some Hope TV specials. Hope made sure he was sitting down, and edited the tape to account for any slowness in picking up cues. Otherwise, Jerry performed very well. It wasn't until his heart attack in the 70s that he was confined to the Motion Picture and TV Hospital for the rest of his life. As for the new comics, I don't know -- I moved to Providence in 1966, and wasn't there to get his reactions. I think he would have liked Robin Williams. His favorite had always been Sid Caesar, who set a very high bar for anybody following him. Of course, Jerry hated coarse language, and never used it himself, even privately, so most of the newbies would have turned him off.
LOBOSCO: How was life for you growing up the son of Jerry Colonna?
BOB COLONNA: I now realize what a break I got. I met most of the people I would like to have met, from Harpo to Robert Preston. I had access to some fabulous parties, and I got to perform with Dad in British Variety at fifteen and in clubs in my twenties. I decided from a very early age that the stage was my place. I never had stage fright -- it was always home to me. Dad taught me the basics of comedy, even though we always worked very differently. His best piece of advice: Know when to get off.
LOBOSCO: What would you like a young fan who knows little about your father come away from when he/she reads your book?
BOB COLONNA: I hope he/she wants to hear Dad's voice (which that person might have already if they watched the old Disney "Alice in Wonderland," in which Jerry does the voice of the March Hare. That fact gets me a lot of cred with my college students!) in his very funny recordings. You can hear a lot of them on Youtube, and there are compilations out there on the Web, for sale. And in the book the reader will pick up a lot about the USO in WWII, which was Hope and Colonna's finest hour.
LOBOSCO: What is something even a fan of Jerry Colonna's would be surprised to know about him?
BOB COLONNA: Unlike most comedians, Jerry was quiet and conservative, only occasionally kidding around in private. When he did, though, it was VERY funny, but for the most part he was soft spoken, and very sweet, especially to my mother, Flo, whom he adored.